OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT KABBAH
(Published in Focus Vol 3 No 5
July 1997)
Dear Mr President 

Greetings from London and here’s wishing you, the First Lady, and the rest of your entourage the best of health and God’s guidance and protection. I also take this chance to wish you a speedy return home. I am, like many, very sad that our democracy was so brutally cut in its prime - an unfortunate act which has not only taken us back to where we were barely a year ago, but even beyond to the darkest reaches of chaos and uncertainty. 

Please bear with me, for what I wish to say in this open letter to you is from the heart.

Your sadness and concern at what has happened to our country is shared by the whole Nation. The only division that is obvious between us, loyal Sierra Leoneans, at this very critical moment is simply in how we are going to get ourselves out of the situation that has arisen. You must be aware that there are those who believe that we should use force to remove the AFRC which has arrogated to itself the right to exercise supreme power over the rest of us without our consent. I believe you are also of this persuasion. Equally loyal, but taking the opposite view, are people, including myself, who prefer a peaceful way out of the impasse, without the use of military intervention. 

I argued in the last edition of this paper (in which, incidentally, I published an open letter, similar to this one, to the Chairman of the AFRC) that there was a time when intervention during, and immediately after, the coup might have succeeded with less bloodshed in dislodging the coupists. That chance went by as a timid and pusillanimous international community allowed things to drift, thereby giving succour to the AFRC and all the time they needed to consolidate. 

I shall presently tell you why some of us oppose the use of brute force to reverse the coup. But first, let me assure you that the fact that we do not share the former view does not in anyway mean we condone what has happened or, as has been alleged, approve the action of the coup makers. 

No, Mr President, the loyalty and love for Sierra Leone transcends the current political divides, extends beyond the membership of the SLPP and the rivalries for political office. It goes beyond tribal, political and religious allegiances. As an opinion leader myself, I have heard these opposing views, with supporting arguments, expressed with deep passion and concern. It is wrong to assume that just because somebody advises caution, or does not support the use a foreign military force to reverse the AFRC coup, they are therefore traitors, or allies of the coupists. It is equally implausible to claim that those who have engaged in dialogue with the coup makers are encouraging their acts of “hooliganism”. 

I am not a hooligan but I have taken the trouble throughout this crisis to convey my views to various members of the AFRC, including the Chairman Major Koroma, as a way of engaging in dialogue, including ideas for arriving at a quick and satisfactory resolution. It is even more mischievous to impute complicity to anyone simply because they attempt to explain why and how such action could have taken place in our country, as I did when I was invited by the BBC World Service Radio, Independent Television News, and Sky TV news, to comment on the state of the country prior to the coup. Sierra Leone’s coup would be a unique event if it is being argued that the fires of revolt started spontaneously without any smoke. But my aim here is not to start the inquest that will surely come at a later date. I will therefore stick to the issues of the use of force and how we can extricate ourselves from the present dilemma of pending violence.

Firstly, we have advised a peaceful way out because we believe that the way we come out this current crises will become a key determinant of our creativity and capacity to handle national problems in the future. For Sierra Leone to become stable hereafter, it needs a solution now that will attempt to address the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of our recent history which allow these persistent upheavals in our society. Ours is a society that was already enmeshed in a civil war that has cost us thousands of innocent lives and virtually wiped out the basic economic and social infrastructures that are necessary for any form of developmental activity to take place. We who are of this persuasion believe we should explore a solution that will facilitate the governance of our country in a stable and strife-free climate during what is likely to be, in future, a testing time. Some say that all that must wait until we restore legality. We say it should happen now as part of restoring legality.

Secondly, because we are unsure that military action can eliminate the coupists with the completeness that is necessary for normal life to resume and continue in our country for all times. 

Thirdly, we would be legitimising the very act of force by engaging in it ourselves as a solution for our problems. Two wrongs do not make a right. If it is wrong to usurp power by the gun, it must be wrong to use it to take it back unless it is specifically sanctioned within a legal framework. As far as I know even our regional organisations - the OAU and ECOWAS - are still grappling with the appropriate legal framework for such cases. 

We have to acknowledge that things will never return to the status quo before the coup. Just as we will have to refurbish our bank and the State House, to name a few, so it is going to be with reshaping and re-establishing all the personal and other relationships that have been broken by this event, but even before that the devastation that had been caused by the war which preceded it. I personally do not see what difference military intervention will make to help us deal with these issues.

We will never turn the clock back to Sunday 25 May. 

I therefore plead with you, Mr President, not listen to these people who feel they are the ones who’ve got it right. Nobody has! That is the reason why we have this disaster in our country. If we had got it right in the first place we would not be discussing the merits and demerits of warfare between our peoples. Everybody has made mistakes in the past. Only, we are loathe to accept this fact. 

You are no doubt aware that I do not support the arming of Kamajohs for a fight with the soldiers. I suspect that your own inclination is also against that sort of thing as the answer to our problem. I know that you, like me, abhor the unnecessary loss of lives that has taken place during six years of war in our country. I applauded you when you said on BBC Focus On Africa, that you did not want further bloodshed in that country, when the interviewer put the specific question to you about whether or not you were calling on kamajohs to go to Freetown to restore your Government. “No” you said “There has been too much bloodshed”. That was a courageous statement. Then later in the evening, on another edition of the same programme, I heard your deputy Minister of Defence contradicting you when he said something like “I do not want to appear as if I am contradicting my President” - but he was! - and he then implicitly incited Kamajohs to go to Freetown to restore “their government”. He was not being helpful.

Whenever there is a prospect of bloodshed, on whichever divide it is likely to occur, it should revolt us and we should try to minimise and avert it. But Hinga Norman is an ex-military man who thinks differently on these issues. I think the involvement of innocent Kamajohs in internecine warfare that could conceivably continue in the foreseeable future should be discouraged. I believe you are well placed to restrain this man and other war mongers who are only pouring more petrol on a country engulfed in flames. 

Your initial recourse to the power of diplomacy was the correct one. However long it took, it would have been preferable for continuos pressure to be put on the regime in Freetown. You more than most people in our country know the power of diplomacy and how it can work to resolve some of most intractable problems without the use of naked force. That’s where you should have continued to place your faith. 

If I had been asked to advise you, I would have told you that your first port of call should have been the UN where you are no stranger. There you should have demanded, as Head Of State, to address an emergency meeting of the Security Council with a plea for your immediate re-instatement. Then, maybe, all this unilateral action by the new bully of West Africa - Nigeria (Abacha is no friend of yours because he is a dictator and you are definitely not one!) - would have been averted. I would not have advised you to invite Nigerians to invade and bombard our country.

As it is now, our country has already suffered the first bout of many-more-to-come destructive encounters with Nigeria and Kamajohs. It is bound to destroy the few remaining oases of prosperity in our already wafer-thin infrastructure. I just hope our friends in the West have a kind of Marshall Aid Plan to help us rebuild a new country should the feared war with ECOMOG implode. 

Finally Mr President, I have heard rumours that Corporal Foday Sankoh has, again, been moved from his salubrious environs of house arrest in Abuja to more austere conditions in northern Nigeria, close to the Chadian border, at Kuje. I do not know if this is true but I think it is wrong for a key party to our problems - hence its solution – however despicable we think he is, to be kept away while serious havoc is being wreaked upon everyone in his name. The current situation in our country requires his presence whether to answer or deny any charge against him and his organisation, or his full participation in seeking a final resolution of this matter. I urge you to persuade General Abacha to release him. 

I am hopeful and praying that that you and the rest of our fugitive citizens will soon return to Sierra Leone where we all truly belong. I wish you and your dear wife well, until we meet again on the soil of our dear motherland. 

Yours sincerely